Pan-Turanism, not Islam, Motivated the Armenian Genocide

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


A recently published book “Remembering for the Future: Armenia, Auschwitz, and Beyond,” edited by Michael Berenbaum, Richard Libowitz, and Marcia Sachs Littell, is a collection of scholarly papers delivered at a conference held at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, March 8-11, 2014.

In his paper, “The Armenian Genocide as Jihad,” Prof. Richard Rubenstein attributes the Armenian mass killings to Islamic fanaticism against Christians. This is an often misunderstood topic even by Armenians who proudly proclaim that they were the first nation to adopt Christianity as state religion in 301 A.D. There is a whole folklore based on the misconception that Armenians were martyred because of their faith and refusal to convert to Islam. Given the current anti-Islamic fervor in the United States and elsewhere, some people are misled by these false claims.

Prof. Rubenstein starts his paper on the wrong footing when he describes a gruesome scene from “Ravished Armenia,” a 1919 Hollywood silent film which showed several naked Armenian women nailed to wooden crosses. Believing that “the Turks” intended to send a particular anti-Armenian and anti-Christian message with such horrifying images, Prof. Rubenstein mistakenly claims that the movie “could not have been filmed without the involvement and consent of Turkish authorities.”

Prof. Rubenstein bases his assumptions of the religious motive behind the Armenian Genocide on the fact that “the Ottoman Empire was governed as a theocratic state at the apex of which stood the Sultan, both the supreme head of state and, for Sunni Muslims, the Caliph and, as such, the successor to the Prophet and supreme protector of Islam.”

The Professor insists on stipulating a religious causal factor for the Armenian Genocide, even after quoting from the eminent scholar Dr. Vahakn Dadrian, who contradicts him. According to Dadrian, the members of the Committee of Union and Progress or Ittihad who gained power in 1908 and masterminded the Armenian Genocide, were not “followers of the tenets of Islam…. While the Ittihad continued to run the State largely as a theocracy, its leaders were personally atheists and agnostics.” It is difficult to believe that a devout Muslim would murder a single human being, let alone millions!

Dr. Rubenstein emphasizes the central role of Islam in the Turkish mass killings of Armenians, even though he acknowledges that “[Ronald] Suny and other scholars have argued that the predominant motive for the murderous homogenization project was nationalism and there is no doubt that radical nationalism played a part.” Rubenstein dismisses the issue of Pan-Turkish nationalism, arguing that “the most important motivation for the monumental ‘ethnic cleansing’ projects was religious and specifically a consequence of the unchanging nature of certain aspects of Islam.”

To demonstrate that religion was a major determinant in the Turkish leaders’ designs, Prof. Rubenstein states: “on November 2, 1914, the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Entente powers, Britain, France, Russia, and their allies. On November 13, the Ottoman Sultan, in his capacity as Caliph, issued an appeal for jihad. The next day, Mustafa Hayri Bey, the Sheikh-ul-Islam, and as such the chief Sunni religious authority in the Ottoman world, issued a formal (and inflammatory) declaration of jihad ‘against infidels and enemies of Islam.’ Jihad pamphlets in Arabic were also distributed in mosques throughout the Muslim world that offered a detailed plan of operations for the assassination and extermination of all ‘unbelievers’ except those of German nationality, the Empire’s wartime ally. Killing squads and their leaders were ‘motivated by both the ideology of jihad and Pan-Turkism influenced by European nationalism.’ While the practical influence of the jihad on the masses was limited, ‘it later facilitated the government’s program of genocide against the Armenians.’”

Prof. Rubenstein misses the point that religious fervor, rather than being the cause of the Armenian Genocide, was exploited to inflame the passions of the fanatical Turkish mobs in order to provoke them against the Armenians.

Instead of religion, the primary motivation for the destruction of Armenians was their removal as an impediment to Turkification and an obstacle to the Turkish leaders’ grand scheme of establishing a Pan-Turanist empire reaching Central Asia. Even though they were Muslims, a large number of Kurds were also killed, simply because they were not Turks!

Christian Armenians had no conflict with devout Muslims and their faith. In fact, large numbers of survivors of the Armenian Genocide were sheltered by Muslims in, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Armenians remember well The Sharif of Mecca, Al-Husayn ibn Ali, who issued an edict in 1917 ordering Muslims to defend Armenian survivors of the Genocide, as they would defend their own families.

The Young Turks’ plan to eliminate Armenians from Ottoman Turkey was motivated by Pan-Turkish fanatical nationalism rather than Pan-Islamic fervor!

Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. State of Emergency said:

    The Turks only motive was to cleanse and purify the territories of their envisioned future Turkish republic. They were smart enough to know that even the smallest of the minorities would eventually grow in size and begin to demand rights and concessions. They were well aware of the fact that the boundaries of the Ottoman empire were about to shrink and they were moved to carve up a large enough chunk in order to sustain their power in the region. However, their only miscalculation was the Kurdish population. The first thinking was that they were Muslim and could be easily subjugated. The second was that they needed a local population to tend the lands and populate the countrysides. Unfortunately, the initial fear of a growing minority did ultimately come true for the Turks. Eventually, the Kurds did grow in size and began to demand their rights and privileges. What the Turks tried to prevent with other minorities eventually caught up to them. If the Kurds were not left to stand at the time, the Turks would not be having the problems they face today. Therefore, the real motive was not religion nor was it pure evil, it was the result of forward thinking and the day-after scenario following the end of the Ottoman empire.

  2. Garo Kassabian said:

    I just happened to read a digitized on-line article in the Feb. 1, 1917 issue of “THE NEW ARMENIA” semi-monthly English magazine which was published in New York, titled
    “The Armenian Atrocities and the Jihad” written by the Missionary Clarence D. Ussher,M.D.
    (1870-1955) and is, incidentally, relevant to the above subject.
    I would like to quote the following excerpt from Dr. Ussher’s article which corroborates
    Mr. Sassounian’s arguments:
    “The extermination of the Christian population of Turkey was determined long before Turkey decided to enter the war. Religious fanaticism had apparently nothing to do with the project, though its aid was much invoked and occasionally it played a part after the massacres began.
    Those who as heads of the Young Turk Party, or of the Committee of Union and Progress, ordered the Jihad or “Holy War”, were notoriously spoken of by the Moslems as infidels.
    While their natural tendencies and hereditary propensities would tend to estrange them from the Christians, it cannot with any justice be said that their decree of Jihad was induced by religious fanaticism. The Jihad has been a failure. In spite of every possible effort on the part of the Young Turk leaders, Persian, Indian, Egyptian, African and Russian Mohammedans refused to participate.”
    PS. Dr Clarence D. Ussher is the author of “An American Physician in Turkey: A Narrative of Adventures in Peace and in War” (1917), also digitized by Google.

  3. Hamiid said:

    This is why Muslims are unwelcome in Europe and Turkey repeatedly denied membership of the EU. Your refusal to take responsibility for your actions.

  4. JOE said:

    Rather, these are just Jews deflecting the reality that the CUP were Zionist Masons, as Ambassador from Great Britain Gerard Lowther described in writing after writing who witnessed the transition from a Sultan system to the CUP. . How do we ignore that basic fact? LETS BE CLEAR: THE REAL purpose was THEFT of wealth so they position themselves, as they STILL DO, for the trade routes, the businesses, the banking etc… Turkish nationalism or Islam was just used as fodder for general Turkish population consumption. Im convinced this is the main Armenian Genocide secret and main obstacle to its recognition today. In Turkey one cannot even question the past and or the official narrative of their history. The truth is their enemy..The TRUTH shall set us free..

  5. Randy Baloian said:

    An excellent critique by Sassounian who concisely demonstrates that religion was a tool but not the cause of the Genocide. Sounds like Rubenstein is warping history to fit his religious/political agenda.

  6. Manuk Pogosysn said:

    It is time Armenians start supporting Republicans (and even libertarians), and move away from Democrats.

    Alex Jones, from InfoWars, fought the “Young Turks” (a name so reprehensible, that it is the equivalent of NAZI) a group of Turks and one Armenian, who are huge Hillary supporters – Alex Jones is recognizing the Armenian Genocide on his show on almost every occasion. ( – check between 30 and 40 minute mark) Which mainstream news site does that?

    Alex Jones, from InfoWars, did more to fight the Turks than 99% of Armenians. Alex Jones has stood up for Christians in the Middle East and Trump and Alex Jones are very closely aligned. With respect to Hillary Clinton, she is happy with killing for the sake of killing. With respect to Muammar Qaddafi, a secular leader in the middle east, she said “we came, we saw, he (Muammar) died.”

    The Clinton Crime Family was also responsible for bombing innocent Serbs, co-religionists of Armenians. The Clinton Crime Family is no friend of us Armenians. Let’s vote Trump –

  7. Red-neck Robert said:

    Prof Rubenstein is right and Sassounian is deluded, at best. Armenian oppression under (an by) the Turks neither began nor ended with the CUP. The West continues to delude itself that Kemal Attaturk was a great democrat, but the one constant in all of this equation is Turkish ethnicity, coupled with Islam, that poisonous combination which continues its insult to this day. The insult is not to Turkishness: it is the other way around.